I grew up in a large family and it was difficult for my parents to juggle their myriad of responsibilities with our many requests for afterschool and weekend activities. It was impossible for all of us to go in different directions at the same time; as a result, our opportunities primarily came through “extra” classes offered at school or things we could with family or friends. The school made a small decision to have a math teacher offer computer programming. In tenth grade, I took that class and found that programming was a challenging and fun way to combine two things that came naturally to me: math and art. The school’s decision + my decision = I pursued a career as a computer programmer.
Fast forward a few years, I realized that the school my children attended had a lot of technology: computers for typing, drawing and learning Excel: but, no technology or engineering classes! I looked for something that would provide the missing T and E from my kids STEM education and found it: competitive robotics. There was one small problem: there were funds for after school robotics, but no robotics teacher. I made a decision: I volunteered.
Many years have passed and I have continued to be involved in robotics. As a woman, I have noticed that many robotics teams are missing a valuable asset: girls! Robotics is amazing, creative, fun and enjoyable: why would any girl choose to miss out? The more I observe, the more I wonder if girls are consciously choosing to miss out or if they simply lack the right opportunities….
It has been my observation that robotics teams with good female involvement are a direct result of one or more of these decisions:
- The school requires all students to learn robotics in a regular classroom. An area school teaches a semester of VEX robotics to all eighth grade students during shop class: their shop teacher also coaches the FIRST robotics team. The male/female ratio on the FIRST team is the same as the male/female ratio of their average classroom.
- Another area school has good male/female ratio's. They don’t require robotics, but they run two teams: boys (male coach) and girls (female coach).
- As a general rule, I have noted that any competitive team that has at least one women working alongside the team in the pits, that team usually has 50% or more females.
Until K12 schools provide technology and engineering education to all students, women can make some small decisions that will have a huge impact. One way is to become involved in a quality robotics program. A word of caution, not all robotics are created equal and a decision to purchase robots doesn’t automatically result in STEM education any more than a school that purchases a lot of technology is guaranteed to provide quality technology education! I have mentored five different robotics programs and highly recommend FRC, FLL, FIRST and VEX: all of them have quality robots and excellent educational curriculum.
If you want a change at your school, it will take some work. Although a well-rounded robotics program is very educational and includes technology, engineering, problem solving, reading, writing and mathematics, many schools don't know what they are missing. If you can influence your school to include robotics for all, I recommend they consider using FIRST robots and educational curriculum, it starts as young as preschool. Another quality robotics education is available through VEX IQ.
Whether you work in a school or in a club: share your experiences with others. Encourage other women to become mentors alongside you. Choose to become actively involved in making tomorrow better for ALL of our kids - girls included!
This blog was written by Christine a volunteer and judge at FIRST events. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!